There are plenty of reasons not to like the infrastructure legislation that recently cleared the Senate. It sets the stage for truly destructive reconciliation legislation. It creates a foundation for a tax on miles driven. Less than 10% of its spending is dedicated to roads and bridges. It establishes a protected class based on one’s “real or perceived” gender identity. It mandates ignition interlocks (breathalyzers) in new cars.
So, it is no surprise that a majority of the Senate Republican caucus (about 30 senators) were consistently opposed to the legislation and voted against it in both of the important procedural votes — the motion to proceed to debate and the motion to proceed to final passage — and the vote on final passage.
A smaller group of about a dozen Republican senators voted yes on the procedural votes and yes on the final passage. These senators fall into three groups. Some are retiring (Sens. Rob Portman, of Ohio, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Roy Blunt of Missouri) or just won re-election and are unlikely to run again (Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Thom Tillis of North Carolina).
There are those who are pretty much never-Trumpers (Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah) and obviously viewed these votes as a way to create some distance between themselves and former President Donald Trump and his supporters.
The other Republican senators who voted for the legislation at every turn seem to have no particular reason to support it (Sens. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Kevin Cramer of North Dakota). In this last group was Sen. Bill Cassidy, who was careless enough while negotiating the legislation that he allowed in a provision that restarts the Superfund tax, which specifically damages chemical companies and their workers and communities located in his home state of Louisiana.
Another set of Republican senators voted for one or both of the procedural motions but voted against final passage or for final passage but against the procedural motions. This group included Sen. John Cornyn of Texas (for the first procedural motion, but against final passage), Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi (against the motion to proceed to a final vote, but for final passage), and Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, who was one of the negotiators but voted against final passage.
Those senators with similar voting patterns also included Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Todd Young of Indiana, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Dan Sullivan of Alaska and Deb Fischer of Nebraska.
Keeping in mind that the legislation changed not at all from the moment the 2,700-page text was made available through the final passage, why would anyone vote to proceed to debate or proceed to final passage knowing they planned on voting against it ultimately?
Conversely, why vote against proceeding and then vote for the legislation?
The most likely answer is, of course, corrosive and cynical politics.
The senators who mixed and matched their votes anticipated future encounters with voters and want to say that they voted for the legislation, or against it, depending on the audience.
For some, the calculation was about running for leadership at some point in the future in a Senate Republican caucus that will no doubt continue to distance itself from the party’s historical and unfortunate identity as the party of big business.
The practical effect of this sort of gamesmanship is to confirm the worst sentiments about politics and politicians. The intentional blurring of whether a legislator is for or against something is not healthy for the republic, its citizens, or Congress.
Too many members of Congress are still playing these tired games. The good news is that voters pretty much see through them. What we saw on the Senate floor in the last two weeks was the last gasp of old-line Republicanism. It will not be missed nor eulogized.
• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to President Trump and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.